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12 Everyday Expenses I Didn't Know I Was Overpaying For (And The Cheaper Options I Use Now)

Shut up and (please don’t) take my money.

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Ever look at your bank account and wonder, Where the heck did all my money go?!

I like staying home, cause soon as I step outside I spend $100

@6figures_ / Via Twitter

I used to. All. The. Time. And then, I'd realize I'd been mindlessly paying for things without taking notice of the price. It sucks to think how much money I wasted over the years because I overspent without even realizing it.

What really helped me was when I started to ask myself before every purchase, Could I find this cheaper? And instead of just accepting the price, I'd spend an extra 20 minutes seeing if I could find a better deal. And you know what? I pretty much always found it cheaper than I thought it'd be.

Here are the things I paid too much for in the past — and the cheaper alternatives I use now to save money.

These are things that have worked for me. Hopefully you'll find them useful too, but know that your experience may vary.

1. Phone plan

Buena Vista Pictures / Via Giphy /

When I first started paying for my own phone, I didn't shop around at all. I just went into the nearest store and accepted whatever the sales assistant recommended. As a result, I ended up paying about $90 per month for my phone plan, which included renting the phone. I didn't even get to keep it at the end. Yikes.

I later realized that was waaaay too expensive, especially since I don't text or call anyone besides my mom. So I bought an unlocked phone for $150 and then switched to Republic Wireless where I now pay $23 per month! You can pick different plans based on how much data you use — I'm pretty much always on Wi-Fi, so 2GB is good enough for me. Oh, and I also get a discount off their monthy rate by paying annually.

If you're a data fiend, Mint Mobile offers 3GB of data for $15 per month or even unlimited data for $30 per month.

2. Prescription glasses

Scooby Doo / Via Giphy /

I once walked into my optometrist's office for an eye exam and walked out with prescription glasses and a $250 bill. I was surprised — I had no idea glasses were that expensive?! It’s not like I asked for my eyes to suck.

When my prescription changed and I needed new glasses, I refused to spend that amount of money again. Instead, I bought a pair of glasses from Zenni Optical for under $10!! That was years ago, and I’m still using the same ones, so that's a pretty good deal if you ask me.

If you don’t need prescription lenses but wear reading glasses, these are also bizarrely expensive and can run you, like, $30 a pair. If you’re the type to lose your glasses every time you put them down, try getting your readers at the dollar store for — you guessed it — a dollar. That way you won’t feel bad if you accidentally step on them or something.

3. Parking

Screenshot of parking options in Chicago, IL using Parking Panda
Charis Barg / Via Parking Panda /

Parking is the bane of my existence, especially when I’m already running late and have to circle the block for 15 minutes looking for a place to park that doesn't cost my entire paycheck.

Since now knowing the parking situation triggers my fight or flight, I've started looking beforehand on Parking Panda or ParkWiz. Basically, I reserve a guaranteed parking spot from the comfort of my home before even leaving for my destination. I've noticed the price I end up paying is often even cheaper than the posted price once I get to my parking spot. It's so comforting to know I've found a great deal AND avoided the frustration of driving around searching for a space.

4. Textbooks

Spongebob Squarepants / Via Giphy /

When I was in college, I literally had to buy a set of textbooks that would’ve cost me over $1,000 for the semester. Excuse me, I refuse to spend that kind of money for books I’m not even gonna read.

Instead of accepting my fate and buying them at the college bookstore, I decided to do some research myself. Good thing too, because there are some great resources online:

• For comparing prices: Campus Book 4 Less, Textbookly

• For buying: AbeBooks, Chegg

• For renting: Campus Book Rentals, Amazon Rentals

If the textbook was still super expensive, I’d get a past edition and use that instead. I honestly don’t remember running into any issues when I used older versions of textbooks, but that’s just me.

Anyway, I ended up finding all the textbooks for ~$600. Still a large chunk of change, but hey, better than over $1,000!

5. Over-the-counter drugs

Benadryl allergy meds and ZzzQuil sleeping meds have the same active ingredient
Charis Barg

I’m not a doctor, but I used to be a nurse. Here's a tip: In many cases, generic medications are often cheaper than brand name, and there's often little or no difference in how they work.

I used to get sucked into marketing, so I thought brand name = better. But now, I compare brand name vs. generic drugs — or even products marketed for different uses — by looking at the active ingredient (and strength). For example, ZzzQuil is marketed as a sleep-aid while Benadryl is marketed to allergy sufferers. But they actually both have the same active ingredient: diphenhydramine.

That said, be aware that not all products with the same active ingredient are created equal. Ask your doctor or the pharmacist at the drugstore whether there's a comparable non-branded product. They can help you identify the active ingredients, double-check the strength, and make sure there are no nasty additives.

Of course, the obligatory disclaimer: I’m just some random person on the internet, so make sure to always use your own judgment when it comes to your health and body, and seek professional medical advice if you're ever unsure.

6. Clothes

7. Car insurance

Screenshot of car insurance cost with Metromile
Charis Barg

Car insurance is one of those adult things I know I need to have but can't stand paying for.

I live in an area where car insurance is expensive so I was paying like $200 a month for it. Because of quarantine life, I switched to Metromile, which is car insurance where you pay per mile instead of a set price every month. I save money AND have an excuse not to drive? It's a win-win for me.

8. Lodging when traveling

List of membership rewards
Charis Barg

None of us are really traveling much right now, but back when I was, I would compare accomodations on different websites, since prices can change depending on what sites you use.

For instance, I once wanted to go to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. The price of the room I wanted was listed as $1,000 on the resort's official website, but when I checked, I found the exact same room for $640. Plus, I booked it using Ibotta (a cashback app), so I got an extra 4% in cash back! In the end, I saved almost $400 by just looking around on different sites.

9. Emergency room or medical bills

The Simpsons / Via Giphy /

There’s nothing like getting a ridiculous medical bill to totally ruin your entire month — or year. After paying a visit to the ER, I ended up with a bill in the mail for over $800!! I didn't think it looked right, so instead of paying it right away I called my insurance company and ended up getting a reduced bill a few months later for around $200.

Luckily, my insurance mostly dealt with the bill for me. If you don't have insurance and your bill seems over-the-top, you can also try calling the hospital billing department directly to double-check the charges are accurate or see if it's possible to negotiate the bill down.

10. Date night

a romantic dinner table for two set up on a grassy lakeshore
@choosefrugal / Via

I'm not super creative when it comes to dates. I just do dinner and drinks at a nice restaurant and call it a day, which sadly can cost anywhere from $100–$200.

Luckily, I'm with someone who's a little more creative and romantic than me. He's planned several dates that didn't cost more than $30, including:

• Dinner with candles in the backyard of a friend's lakehouse at sunset. So much ~natural ambience~. This could totally be done in a park as a picnic too!

• Made dinner at home complete with candles, jazz music, and a menu using these free printables for a "Couple's Café". It even says the payment is "in the form of affection". Is that cute or what?!

• Sending a date box in the mail, which is exactly what it sounds like: an entire date delivered in a box. Ours was making s'mores together.

What's even more awesome is these are all done at home or outside, which is so important during quarantine life.

11. Furniture

Friends / Via Giphy /

I move apartments pretty frequently — I think it's because I get bored staying in one place too long. So when it comes to furniture, I don't want to screw myself over by paying hundreds of dollars for a table that I might not need at my next place.

That's why I buy secondhand or just look for furniture for free on the side of the road (you'd be surprised what you can find!). Craigslist, Offerup, and local estate sales are great ways to source furniture. When I was in college, the end of the semester always led to a gold mine of stuff from students moving in and out. I found a free desk, lamp, and table that way! I also saw a ton of futons but, umm, not for me.

12. Gym memberships

Screenshot of ClassPass
Class Pass / Via ClassPass /

Getting a workout in can cost anywhere from zero to hundreds of dollars a month. I used to pay like $90 a month for a gym membership I never used cause I didn't know what exercises to do. I absolutely need a plan to follow or else I'll literally never exercise. Now, I rotate between free at-home workout videos on YouTube and using a workout subscription plan for $8.25 a month.

You can also find local fitness classes with cheaper rates through Groupon or ClassPass. Depending on where you live, you might be able to find Groupon trials for fitness clubs in your area. I got three weeks of outdoor workout classes for $20 (the regular price was $90). ClassPass is a good option if you like variety, since you pay for how many credits you want per month and can check out different local gyms.

What's cool is a lot of these fitness classes offer both online and in-person options!

Check out our latest personal finance posts for super practical money-saving tips and tricks.